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August 2011 Riots - The Effectiveness of CCTV


The Critical role of Public Area CCTV in Policing the August 2011 Riots

It is a shame that we have to go through such disastrous events as these riots, the London Bombings of 7th July 2005, and the failed bombings two weeks later,before the real effectiveness of Public Area CCTV can be shown in such indisputeable ways to the Government, the Local Authoritities, the media and the Public.

In other parts of this website topic we have statistics which rebut the common 'Myths' but these are not as graphic as the facts this week which all can understand.

To see exactly what I am referring to - just look at the images the Metropolitan Police have released on this website. 


And Manchester's images can be seen here


From as far as I can judge, the vast majority of these images are views from cameras looking down on the individuals and so were probably taken from Public Area CCTV Systems, in the main operated by the Local Authorities in London and Greater Manchester.

During the weekend of the 6th and 7th August the public witnessed the horrific images of looting, arson, assualt, robbery, burglary and many other crimes, whilst the Police seemingly had been caught un-prepared or without adequate resources and had to concentrate on limiting the movement to prevent other outbreaks and gain  as much evidence as possible for use later. To make arrests at that time would loose 'front line officers' from the incident to arrest and charge the rioters.

Now, on Thursday 25th (over two weeks following the first incidents), the Met Police alone, have identified 3,296 criminal incidents related to the riots and have already made 2,006 arrests and charged over 1,135 people, principally based on recordings from the Public Area CCTV cameras , but also their own 'body worn' cameras and owners systems, a remarkable achievement!

This is echoed the results from Birmingham (by the 13th 509 arrested and 141 charged), Manchester(256 arrested, 166 charged), Merseyside (by the 15th 216 arrested and 86 charged), Nottingham and other Town and Cities similarly affected. A fantastic result that couldn't have been achieved without the Local Authoritity Public Area CCTV systems, and the support of all the 'back office staff' withinin the Police Forces!

Now, hopefully the additional resources, proposed by the Police, have quietened things down, but be under no dis-illusion the work of the Police and Local Authorities behind the scenes is still at fever pitch.

In the Public Area CCTV 24/7/365 control rooms concerned, professionally trained, highly experienced and skilled CCTV Operators would have controlled the cameras on the incidents to not only give an overview to help Police co-ordination, but where possible focus in to get the 'identification' quality images we see above on the Met Police Website. Hundreds of thousands of hours of public area CCTV footage needs to be reviewed (although operators would have tagged critical recordings for future assessment).

Police Liaison Officers, working closely with the Local Authority CCTV Managers were a great help in this, but unfortunately in many forces they have been retired, as non 'front line' staff, to meet Government savings (what an ill considered decision, so much experience and talent wasted).

The Police forces have many others in similar non front line roles, the critical Forensic Analysts and VIIDO groups and others involved in reviewing the images, in several forces. These are critical in the current phase as whilst they now have images, they need to put names to those faces, and link video evidence to them. In cases where it is a 'hoodie' with face covered they will trawl through other recordings to find any other image of him, possibly miles away on other cameras before he covered his face, and success is ensured.

In future this may well be assisted by products such as FIND recently developed which can search video recordings at rates much faster than 'real time' and pick up on clothes, logo's etc to help track and identify culprits. It is undergoing testing at the moment and will be of great help, but at present this work is carried out by 'back room' staff. 

This is painstaking and skilled analysis work, which complements the skills of the operators gaining the images. And to put names to faces websites like that above, the work of the Met Circulation Unit which circulates such images to Police throughout London to gain identifications, and bring the culprit to justice is absolutely critical.

The Acting Commissioner and the Prime Minister suggest this is only the start and many hundreds (if not thousands) of others will be caught by this process. This really does illustrate graphically what an essential, effective tool Public Area CCTV is, not only in such horrific circumstances, but in day to day Community Safety.

But the question in my mind is, how long will they be able to do this in the future?

The Prime two organisations in respect of Community Safety are of course the Police Force and their Local Authority partners, and both are facing severe budget cuts! By coincidence a report on todays news indicated the number of Police Officers in the Met to be lost to meet their target, at 16,000 coincidentally was comparable with the numbers of front line Police Officers later patrolling London to quell the riots!

The Government stress this will be backroom staff, not front line officers! But as the above illustrates, the back room specialist support is critical to the success of CCTV, and catching offenders, and without sufficient support and Police Liason effectiveness will suffer.

Local Authorities who fund and manage the vast majority of the Local Authority Public Area CCTV systems in the UK are also severe budget constraints and Public Area CCTV is not a statutory duty for them (unlike education, social services etc) and thus an easier target for savings.

Many authorities across the UK have considered, closure of their systems, reducing monitoring hours, using volunteer operators and a variety of other possibilities, but all these options have drastic implications for the effectiveness of Public Area CCTV which would seriously damage the ability to carry out such brilliant, effective  work as has been achieved this week.

The Issues are:-

The effectiveness of Public Area CCTV depends upon

24/7/365 Public Area CCTV Control Rooms with professionally trained, highly skilled managers and operators directing the cameras at all times. Effectiveness reduces by about 80% when un-manned.

Reducing the number of cameras has minimal effect on cost savings but proportionally reduces their area of coverage and ability to track suspects

Whilst some authorities have considered total closure, in 99% of the cases public outcry has been so intense they have had to change their minds.

The expertise and support of their local Police Force to provide CCTV liason and adequate forensic investigation staff to utilise the images and identify offenders


• (144) By Peter Fry, 25 Aug 2011, 14:52

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